Written by Kelly Farr
Out of our hunting party of four, Shane and I had the opportunity to hunt two different states in the same outing. One muzzleloader hunt and one rifle hunt. Mike and Clint, the others in our party, only had rifle tags and were quite jealous. The rifle hunt was only 7 days long, while the muzzleloader hunt was 9 days. We had to plan carefully to be able to hunt for both in the same 9 days. Shane and I decided to hunt with our muzzleloaders first, as it's a bit more challenging, and we felt we had a better chance for a big buck in this area. Then go try the rifle hunt in the other state with Mike and Clint.
Opening morning we were up well before light for the long hike in. We saw several good bucks that morning, but due to circumstances beyond our control, namely other hunters, we didn't get a chance at them. The deer would be getting up to feed soon so I'd decided to take Shane over to little canyon that seemed to funnel the deer as they came through the area. I sat him down toward the mouth of the canyon and then hiked up about 150 yards to sit and glass a spot where the canyon took a sharp bend. We'd sat there no more than a minute when I spotted a couple deer moving down the canyon, just as I had hoped. They were both does though. I watched them walk for about 50 yards, and then they started over a small ridge. As they reached the top they suddenly spooked and bounded wildly for about 20 yards, then stopped and looked back. I knew whatever had spooked them wasn't a human or they would've kept going. I had seen this kind of behavior before and thought there must be another deer, or possibly a coyote on the other side. I decided to watch closely to see what came over the hill. Then a shot range out behind me. I didn't think much of it and kept watching the does. Then another shot range out, and a few moments later another. They sounded a ways away, but I decided to get up and move back about 75 yards to where I could see better, just in case a monster buck was fleeing my way. I glassed for a few moments, but couldn't see anything moving my way. As I turned back I got an instant shock as I looked up to see a huge buck walking away on the ridge directly opposite of where I was just sitting. Ahhhhh! Dang it! All I could see was his big wide rack stretching out past his body and ears. I didn't need my binoculars to see in an instant that this buck was a shooter, anytime! I judged him to be at least 30 inches wide.
I was now 200 yards from the deer instead of 125, and he was walking slowly away! I didn't know whether to drop and set up my shooting stix, or try to move forward and get closer. Dang it, why didn't I just stay where I was? As the big buck walked up the ridge all I could think of was how he would've been broadside at 125 yards if I had stayed put! I looked over to see if Shane could see the buck, but I couldn't see him, he was just off the edge and down far enough to be out of sight. I pulled up the binoculars to get a better look at the buck, and hopefully watch Shane take him. Nothing happened. The big buck turned and walked broadside a few steps toward Shane's position, and then stopped. I pulled up my Knight 50 caliber and put the crosshairs on his back. I judged him to be about 250 yards. I hesitated not wanting to make a bad shot, and since he didn't seem spooked, perhaps he would walk right to Shane. Mulling over the options I lowered the rifle and then watched the big buck turn and step over the ridge, the wrong way!
I quickly moved forward to try and find Shane. He had seen the buck too and was waiting for me to shoot, knowing I was sitting right there! Sadly, I had to break the bad news to him, and then told him to go after the buck. I knew that I probably wasn't fast enough to get over there in time to cut them off, so I watched as Shane dropped off into the canyon and hiked up the other side to where the deer had crossed over. He kept glassing and watching the deer below him for another ten minutes, and then slowly stepped over the ridge and I knew he was going after the big buck.
I decided to drop down and try to get around below the deer to keep them up by Shane. As I glassed ahead in the direction I intended to go I spotted a buck standing under a lone cedar tree about 300 yards out. He was perfectly silhouetted and looking up into the cedars intently. I knew he had to be watching Shane. He was a great buck, tall and at least 27 inches wide with deep forks. I decided that if I could get another 30 yards to my left without him seeing me I could drop behind a small ridge line and sneak up to within 150 yards before he could see me, and hopefully get a shot. The wind was in my favor and it looked like the perfect stalking scenario and my pulse started to race a little. I hadn't put my binoculars down for more than a couple seconds, and taken a couple steps when, Boom! A shot rang out just above me. It startled me, and I have to admit I flinched, bad. I knew it had to be Shane. I quickly moved back to where I could see, hoping to see the buck on the ground. But I couldn't see any sign of the buck. I looked up toward where the shot had come from and could still see some smoke rising up out of the cedars. Then I saw Shane just 200 yards above me frantically trying to reload. I smiled, as I knew what he was going through right at this moment. Shear Panic! It's part of the muzzle loading experience.
I finally got his attention and we both moved forward to where the buck had been standing, but there was no sign of a hit. We followed the tracks as far as we could, but there was no sign of a hit. We were both sure he'd shot over the buck. He'd lost sight of the bigger buck and while trying to catch up had run into this buck. He tried to judge the distance calculating it over and over while trying to calm himself down. He couldn't move forward, there were no more trees and the buck was looking at him. When he'd shot, the buck just stood there for a second and then turned and trotted off. He told me how far he'd judged the buck to be and I was sick, remembering that I had told Shane the distances look closer than they really are out here and he'd judged the buck too far out. I apologized to Shane for messing with his mind. He was gracious and was still smiling from ear to ear from his first ever shot at a deer with a muzzleloader, and a big buck to boot! He was hooked on muzzleloader hunting now!
Mike's 28-Inch Muley
As the story goes, just before shooting light was over they started across a big grassy flat when a doe popped over the ridge about 200 yards away. She headed right toward them. They stopped and stood still to see what would happen. A few seconds behind her came a nice buck intent on catching her. His neck stretched out straight, he was hot on her tail. Neither of the deer noticed the two figures standing conspicuously out in the open directly ahead. Finally, Shane whispered to Mike, "I'm going to take him if he keeps coming closer". Mike agreed. Shane slowly raised his graduation gift, a Knight Master Hunter, spoiled rotten I know, but he deserved it. The buck stopped, facing them at a quartering angle. His swollen neck raised slightly as his head turned to look at the strange objects just 75 yards away now. Shane didn't hesitate and touched off the charge sending the 245-grain Aero-tip Powerbelt smashing into the bucks' front shoulder. He dropped like a ton of bricks and hit the ground. A perfect shot and the buck never got up.
Amazingly the buck turned out to be the very same tall-racked buck that had eluded them earlier in the day. He has some unique eye guards and a weak back fork that positively identified him. Making it more remarkable, Shane and Mike had actually caught up with him during the day, and Shane had gotten a shot at him. Mike had judged him to be further than he really was, and Shane shot over the buck. That was a few hours and two miles away from where he'd popped over the ridge and walked right to them. It must have been destiny?
Shane's Muzzleloader Buck
As I peeked over the ridge there was nothing and I knew that the buck was either still moving up the canyon, or had bedded near where I was now, within 75 yards. With the wind in my favor I decided that if he were bedded he would be there for a while, so I had time to move over and look into the canyon in case he hadn't stopped and was moving up still. I spotted three does and one small buck bedded in the sage below, but no sign of the big buck. Finally after a good 15 minutes of glassing, I decided the only way I would be able to see him if he was bedded there was to stand up. So, I moved back, got my muzzleloader ready and slowly stepped around the tree. The three does were at 160 yards with my laser range finder, so I knew if he was with them I'd only have a couple seconds to get on him and shoot if he stood up. It took those deer a good two minutes to notice me. I was shocked. When they did they stood and started to walk up and away. I had the muzzleloader up on my shoulder in case the big buck came out. Nothing. I watched as the does and two point worked up the opposite hillside and over the top, eventually trotting off. I waited a couple of minutes in case the big buck was hesitating to leaving, but no buck. I glassed the area one last time and decided he must be bedded right next to me. There were no other areas for him to be. I was fairly sure that I'd made it to the edge in time to see that he wasn't moving further up the canyon.
I turned and tried to compose myself knowing he had to be within 50 yards of me now. The wind was in my favor and I'd been very quiet, so I felt confident he wouldn't know I was there yet. I again crept forward searching for any sign of the buck. There are only a few trees on this face, so I thought I'd have a good chance to see him before he spotted me. The tension was unbelievable at this point. Knowing you're now within 30 yards or so of a monster buck, but you don't know exactly where! I thought I'd looked as best I could at the cedars below me and had just started to move when I heard a deer getting up, not 20 yards from me! I quickly stepped back and saw a huge buck taking off almost straight away from me. I had the rifle up and on him instantly. He was about 85 yards out and I was about to shoot when he decided to stop and look back at what ever it was that had disturbed him. Without smelling me, and not really seeing me, he must have heard my steps in the rocky soil that close to him. Still unsure of what had made the noise, he'd stopped and looked back. I dropped the crosshairs on my 1x scope into his shoulder, mid body, and mentally told myself not to jerk the trigger.
As the charge ignited I saw him drop. Through the smoke I could see him on the ground. My first impulse was to yell out, but I kept it in. I knew I'd gotten him. As the smoke cleared I was so sure that I had him that I didn't start to reload immediately. He'd gone down as if hit in the spine, but he was moving like he wasn't and about the time I realized he might get up, he suddenly caught himself and stopped struggling. His head and rack turned, looking right up at me. I don't think I can put into words the feeling I had at that moment, knowing he was going to get up and I didn't have my rifle reloaded. He suddenly stood, whirled around, and started to trot off. In the excitement and with the increased adrenaline of the moment, once I got the powder in, the sabot seated, and started to place the cap on, I pushed so hard that I broke my new knight capper right in half. The loose half flying 10 feet down the hill. If it were in any other situation I would have laughed, but I didn't!
Kelly's 31-Inch Muley
I approached cautiously and slowly peeked over the ridge just below where he'd gone over. I scoured the little draws hoping to see him. Deer began to stand up everywhere. Some of them bucks. There had to be 20 deer scattered in the little draws in front of me. I anxiously glassed each one hoping to see my buck. But he wasn't with them. All the deer began moving away and up. As I lowered the 10x40 Leupolds I looked down and there he was just 50 yards from me. He was up and moving, broadside. This was my chance to finish it. The buck was moving at a steady pace, kind of a fast walk or trot. It was obvious that he was hurting. My mind raced as I kept telling myself to be calm, and follow through. I knew I could make this shot.
Everything felt perfect. I was calm, swinging smoothly and the buck just 50 yards away. I squeezed the trigger, it was smooth, the bolt fell, click. I didn't even flinch! It would have been perfect. Too bad it didn't go off huh? I quickly looked at the rifle and the bolt. It had stopped just hundredths of an inch from contacting the 209 primer. The secondary safety on my rifle was slightly turned in, just enough to prevent it from firing. I quickly screwed it out the half turn it was lacking. I must have bumped it as I moved up the ridge. The buck now 75 yards out had picked up a little speed to a full trot now and was quartering away no longer broadside. He was headed toward the thick stuff now. Panic was once again my familiar companion. I don't like him either! I was in sad shape by this time. Not only due to the fact I'd been up and down and over for a mile in a few minutes. But the real killer was that emotional roller coaster I'd been riding. I was exhausted, dejected, and feeling as though I'd blown it again! It's difficult to put into words the emotions I was feeling!
I tried to track the buck the best I could but he wasn't bleeding, at least it wasn't reaching the ground. After losing his trail I sat and glassed the area I thought he would have gone into. After about an hour I noticed something out of place, a tiny light spot. There, as if by magic, was the eye, then muzzle and the tall rack of my buck. He was standing behind some thick brush in a wash. I quickly ranged the spot with my Nikon laser rangefinder. The buck started to walk forward slowly, exposing himself as he did. I could see that he was weakening. I quickly got ready and as the buck slowly stepped up and out of the wash quartering away. He paused for just a second before going into the thick brush ahead. I knew I had to make this shot count. I relaxed, judged the bullet drop, placed the crosshairs just in front of the last rib and squeezed the trigger ever so gently. As the charge ignited and the smoke bellowed out of the muzzle I knew it was a good shot. I'd seen the buck hunch forward just as the smoke began to obscure my vision. He staggered forward and stopped just behind the brush. I could see parts of him as he stood, for only a second, and then collapsed.
I motioned for Mike to circle around and above the buck, just in case. I reloaded and waited watching the spot intently. As Mike neared the downed buck, I saw him pull up his binoculars and look at the buck. I could tell by his body language that he felt the buck had expired. Mike disappeared into the brush, then Mike stepped into a clearing where I could see his upper torso and gave me the big buck sign of holding his arms out and up above his head. A huge surge of relief swept over my whole body at that point and I knew it was over. I gathered my gear and started toward the downed buck. When I rounded the bend Mike was standing over the buck. As I moved closer, he got bigger. Mike was grinning from ear to ear and I knew I'd taken a monster buck.
We took out the cameras and started taking pictures. We got the tape out and measured the buck. 31 ˝ inches wide. He was a very symmetrical buck with a 4 inch cheater sticking out from the G3, like I thought I saw early this morning. He is a beautiful buck grossing right at 190, he's the buck of a lifetime, especially with a muzzleloader.
The story doesn't end here however. It only gets better! Mike and I dressed the buck and moved him to some deep shade. We'd come back with the deer cart and pack him out later, with some help!
We hiked back to camp and then decided to go see if we could find Shane and Clint to tell them the news, and besides I still had a tag for the other state. It only took us a couple hours to find them in our other hunting area, and we still had a couple hours of light left to hunt. I'd brought along my muzzleloader from the mornings hunt. Mike and I were going to be the brush dogs and try to push some deer to Shane and Clint. We dropped down and began to push the canyon up toward where they'd be watching. I jumped a group of deer up about 150 yards ahead of me, with one decent 24 to 25 inch 4 point. They headed up toward Clint, and I expected a shot to ring out. Knowing that I'd just jumped up a bunch of deer from the cedar draw in front of me, I was completely taken by surprise when I rounded a little rise just 75 yards further, and there, silhouetted under a big cedar just 30 yards away, was the head and rack of a big buck. I couldn't believe what I was seeing. My first thought was, holy cow he looks just like the one I shot this morning, just a little smaller! He even had a cheater in the same spot! It only took a second for me to decide I'd take him.
Clint's 25-Inch Muley
I slowly lowered the binoculars and reacquired the buck in the 1x scope. I moved the crosshair to where I thought his body would be as he got up to leave. I was taking a calculated chance that he would spin up and away from me as he exited and so I held the crosshair above the buck. I waited for what seemed like a long time, but must have been only a few more seconds. Suddenly the buck made his move. It was quick and all in one fluid motion. He did exactly what I'd hoped he was going to do. He rose up, spinning up and away as he did. I was already there and as he began to move I touched off the Pyrodex Select perfectly. The buck disappeared instantly as the smoke obscured the view. I looked ahead in the direction the buck had gone, nothing. My first thought was that he'd gone down on the other side of the tree. But just seconds later he came stumbling out in front of me 75 yards away, looking confused. He was obviously hurt. I dropped down behind a spindly thin bush, which hid about one third of my body, and started to reload as inconspicuously as I could. The buck seeing the movement, of course, looked back quickly and only took a moment to decide this big ugly thing was the cause of his problem. He took off, struggling to get away and headed up toward Shane. I couldn't get reloaded in time before he disappeared. The buck suddenly reappeared about 125 yards out, but he'd changed direction and was going back into the canyon away from Shane's position. He disappeared behind some trees. I looked up to see Mike, but he wasn't looking toward my buck. He was still watching the first buck as it headed up to Clint. He wanted to see Clint take that buck and figured I'd already got mine. I got Mike's attention and he turned to glass the canyon. He had a perfect vantage point and should have been able to see anything moving below. He motioned that he couldn't see anything, so I was positive the buck had either gone down or was lying down in the thick cedars. I motioned to Mike to watch while I followed the bucks' trail. I followed the trail down into the canyon past what appeared to be the only good place to hide. But he'd kept going on through not stopping to lie down. I kept looking up to Mike hoping he'd spot the buck lying under a tree ahead, but he could see no sign of the buck. I was approaching the last little cedar on the hill, the last place he could be hiding. He had to be there! I looked intently at the trail, then the tree, and the trail again hoping to find sign or the buck. I noticed some tiny blood specs on some yellow grass. I was on the right trail. My full attention turned to the little cedar just 25 yards ahead. He had to be there. I got ready and pushed off the safety on my rifle. With every step the tension mounted and I expected the buck to come out. I could see more and more with every step. Soon there was only one tiny spot left and I just knew he had to be there. As I took that last step, revealing the spot, he wasn't there!
Mike was still sitting on the ridge just 25 yards away as I topped out. I motioned him over and showed him the trail and some more blood that I'd just found. We couldn't believe it. This buck had walked across the canyon, up the hill and passed within 25 yards of Mike as he sat on the ridge. He must have been so focused on watching the other buck moving up to Clint, that he missed my buck completely, at 25 yards with nothing but air between them! That was amazing in its self!
After the shock, and me giving Mike a bad time, we headed off on the trail of the buck. Mike would move to a higher vantage point and glass while I kept working the tracks and occasional spec of blood. I kept on the trail. I hadn't seen any blood for a few hundred yards now and was tracking him by the front hoof prints and into a draw where we felt he was headed. As I started to descend into the draw the ground became rockier and it was harder to make out his track. But he'd been on a pretty direct route for the last 500 yards and I felt I knew right where he'd be. I had all but lost the tracks in the rocks now, but as I got to the bottom I spotted some blood. Moving forward slowly I was about to slip through a narrow pass crated by a large boulder and the cliff along the north side of the draw. I was about to step up and peek through the opening when right above me on the cliffs Mike appeared and made a noise. I froze and he motioned that he'd found the buck, right in front of me.
Mike with Kelly's 27-Incher
The buck was about 100 yards down at a steep angle, so I held low into his chest. When the charge went off the solid thud told me I'd connected. The buck tensed up, rolled over and fell 10 feet straight down into the bottom of the draw, and out of sight. We both scrambled over to the edge where we could see down into the draw. The buck lay motionless, he was done. We worked our way down to the buck, trying not to kill ourselves in the steep cliffs. The buck was beautiful. He had one of the most beautiful and colorful faces of any deer I've ever seen. The buck was very symmetrical with only his right G3 being a little shorter. He had the same cheater on his left G3 just like my first buck. He taped out right at 27 inches wide. We couldn't believe it. Two record book bucks in less than 24 hours in two different states. I had dreamed of a day like this, not believing it could actually happen. But here I was, holding the second big buck taken with my muzzleloader in the same day. Absolutely amazing!
The next day found us traveling back for Shane and Clint to try again. Mike and I again would hike down and then try to push deer up into the waiting hunters. As luck would have it, the best buck worked his way up the draw and into Shane's shooting lane. He was a great buck for an 18 year old, but being the incredible son he is, Shane decided to let Clint have this buck since he had to go home early. Shane watched the buck disappear up the draw in Clint's direction. Moments later the shot rang out and we knew Clint had his buck. The buck turned out to be a nice 25 inch 4x4. I'm awfully proud of that boy of mine. That's a tough thing to do, especially when you're young and haven't taken many deer.
Click-a-Pic ... Details & Bigger Photos
Click-a-Pic ... Details & Bigger Photos
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